With his monumental red sculpture ‘Orbit’, Kapoor creates the look of instability. It coils and flows with none of the pyramidal structure usually associated with the building of a tower. It changes as you walk around it, looking unstable as if the Helter Skelter structure could topple over at any moment. Kapoor However assures us that with the help of structural engineer Cecil Balmond the tower is safe for the thousands of visitors expected to climb the 120 meter sculpture to the viewing platform, which has created a grand new view of the London urban-scape.’We want people to forget the engineering, the construction, the materials and simply “experience” it,’ says Balmond. Visitors to the Orbit can take a lift that rises through the tower to an enclosed, high-level observation deck, returning to ground level via a helical staircase with 455 steps and after selecting the Kapoor and Balmond design, Arcelor Mittal appointed Ushida Findlay Architects to develop these components. ‘Cecil felt I had an understanding of non-rectilinear geometry,’ says Kathryn Findlay. Although the London practice’s remit included the design of the entrance pavilion, the plant compound, a ramp and a high-level external walkway, its overarching brief was to ensure that public spaces were not only habitable but also comfortable and fully integrated with the overall design, effectively transforming the sculpture into an accessible architectural experience.
‘Orbit’ is big, expensive, modern and abstract. These are all of the characteristics many people find difficult to accept in a public work of art. It has created a press backlash and also a huge amount of public criticism. It is fortunate that the work was privately funded by a £19m gift from steel magnet Lakshmi Mittal. Many comparisons have been drawn to Kapoor’s more elegant work, ‘Marsyas,’ the third commission for the Unilever Series in the Turbine Hall, at Tate Modern.
‘Orbit’ is fashioned out of red stainless steel, measuring 115 metres high. It resembles a twisting, mangled roller coaster spiralling high up into the sky and will act as a symbol for the 2012 Olympics. Some say, London’s answer to the Eifel Tower. In any event the tower will be a focal point, as the Olympic stadium itself is rather a dull structure, in comparison to the Beijing Birds-nest stadium designed by Herzog & de Meuron with graphics by Ai Weiwei. Orbit will be owned by the OPLC, which is currently appointing an operator for the venue. Organisers say the attraction could reap up to £10 million each year, with a large proportion being ploughed back into regeneration of the area. A spokesman for the OPLC said that there was no “finite lifespan” for the body, but that whatever happens, the Orbit would remain in public hands.
Anish Kapoor Orbit Video